HTC One X is The Eero Saarinen Phone
5/1/2012 by: Simon Solotko
I like the HTC One X. So does the girl next to me, and just about every girl I talk to. So you can stop reading now if your only question is whether chicks dig it. They do. And if you are a girl, yes, the phone is a nerd magnet.
Meet the new member of Cirque de Soleil... HTC One X is very easy to balance
The One X is bigger, faster, sleeker, and more powerful than any other Android phone. Thanks to the brand new Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, the new and decisive performance leader for dual-core phones, the One X has unbeatable core application performance. Almost as if to hedge their bets, the equally awesome NVIDIA Tegra 3 is featured in the Global version (EMEA, APAC, BRICA regions/markets), and while not armed with the Krait or their their equivalent CPU cores, the GPU in Tegra 3 is exceptional and provides superior 3D performance. Sadly, Tegra 3 came without 4G LTE support and for US market the decision was simple - use a dual-core Qualcomm with LTE support. Both versions of the One X give the new iPad 3 a run for its money while fitting very comfortably in your pocket. Unfortunately, this phone tempts us to go too far, too early. It may be the most powerful phone of its age, but it is not a Jedi yet.
The image processor in the One X adds exceptional responsiveness, real time effects, and photo burst speed. Acquisition modes include 8 megapixel photo capture concurrent with taking 1080p video and a slow motion mode which allows you to capture at a high frame rate but play back at a slower one. I have taken hundreds of photos every day I have had this phone and I will share more of these than you may care to see. I invited my friend Tim Steckler to work with my on side by side shots with a Galaxy SII and with my 8 megapixel Olympus E-420 DSLR. Not a fair fight with the DSLR but it’s interesting to see what you get. The processing capability exceeds the optics and sensor size but the photos are impressive and the responsiveness is appreciated. It is hard to do the One X image processing capabilities and integrated photo application justice, the capabilities are rich enough to warrant their own review. If you want to see more photos from the HTC One X just follow me on Twitter as @solotko - I will be letting these fly starting later today.
The world of HD... display.
The screen is stunning if fairly oversaturated. Until I did a side by side my fond memories of the iPhone 4 display continued to haunt me, but every iPhone 4 owner I talked to was jealous and the side by side was not a fair fight. The size of the One X screen make watching video enjoyable and practical. Surely it is eating through the battery like mice in cheese. The iPhone Retina display, for all of its is clarity and pixel density is conquered by the unbelievably luminous and grand display of the One X. In side by side comparisons watching The Hobbit official trailer with the Galaxy SII we generally liked our One X display more, which tended toward yellow rather than green in the SII. The integration of the glass into the phone’s mono body with a smooth beveled edge is a classy touch. For everyone I talked to who was worried about the size of the handset, and all of them were overcome by the experience of watching video and taking photos on the One X.
For testing I was unkind to the phone. I am by all accounts a demanding PC user and value the power and flexibility of a PC. Tempted by the outstanding performance of the phone and Google’s Android ICS operating system I began to cross the streams, mixing traditionally PC uses with mobile ones. This yielded mostly impressive results and occasional frustrations as many apps that need to exist do not, and Adobe Flash still creates a rift between the PC web and the mobile web.
Thinking toward the future, the impressive combination of image processing and computational prowess makes me think that we are on the verge of a new age of computing. I believe this generation of devices will created a tear in the time-space continuum opening the way to new species of augmented reality applications. The processing required for augmented reality to unfold makes an intelligent assistant like SIRI sound low maintenance; she only requires network access to the cloud and speech processing - which while tricky is managed by dedicated silicon. Augmented Reality is the eight mass medium and it requires a significant and holistic combination of local computing, visual IP, and image processing capability, real time rendering, 3D visualization, and the same cloud interactivity. Ultimately, it is the bar against which all future phones will be judged. Fancy headgear optional.
Expect more on this topic here at BSN* in the near future.
North America versus the World, Qualcomm versus NVIDIA
The North American One X uses the Snapdragon S4 dual core processor from Qualcomm. The S4 debuts the new Krait core which is independently developed and most similar to the upcoming ARM Cortex-A15 cores. Krait is extremely efficient, able to fetch and execute more instructions per clock than ARM’s older A9 designs with the added advantage of TSMC 28nm process. It also features a dual channel memory controller which will speed feeding those cores with data and instructions. The Krait core is catapulting you, future One X owner, to A15 levels of performance before that core hits the street. The European version of the One X is based on NVIDIA’s Tegra 3, another badass processor with four Cortex-A9 cores and a fifth A9-based, low-power companion core for improved power management under low or idle load. These processors have taken us right to the edge of the power that a CPU in this form factor can consume and a mobile phone case can dissipate without toasting your hand. We have arrived at processing equilibrium, and unlike desktop PC’s where the industry was able to cheat and increase the CPU power as it went to multi-core, the mobile world cannot, your hand can only get so hot before you start to scream.
On the GPU front, the Adreno 225 GPU uses the same 28nm TSMC process node as today’s leading-edge desktop and mobile GPUs from AMD and NVIDIA. However, this GPU is one step behind which helped speed time to market, but left it a step behind NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 GPU core. The Ardreno 225 is able to run at 400MHz vs. the 266MHz of the Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 GPU due to the die shrink from 40nm to 28nm granting a significant improvement in performance. Of course, the 720P resolution of the One X is going to consume much of that improvement for 3D games and applications that scale to 720P.
GPU technology from NVIDIA and AMD on this 28nm process can consume hundreds of watts and employ truly advanced graphics and GPU accelerated general purpose computing. The GPU tech is arguably a solved problem waiting for more die shrinks. NVIDIA, already able to produce GPU's of amazing performance in the notebook and desktop world, is simply biding its time and throwing additional pipes, incremental power saving technology, and improvement in memory sharing architecture to improve GPU application acceleration as improvement in silicon process technology permits. For example, did you know that Tegra 3 GPU is a third (8 shader cores) of the GPU used in PlayStation 3 (24 shader cores, GeForce 6/7 generation), albeit in just one hundredth of power consumption.
The price we pay
All of this raises the question of whether the supporting technology is up to speed. The latest handhelds do not have enough DRAM, flash storage, battery life, I/O connectivity, or OS stability and manageability for the radical multi-tasking and wildly powerful multimedia processing that they harbor, and all phones save the Razer Maxx are offering consumers completely inadequate batteries - we need to suffer a bit more heft in the onboard battery.The One X suffers all of these deficiencies - in the course of using it you are sure to encounter all of them, unless you just want to text and make calls and like how it looks and it’s hypnotic effects on your nerdy friends and pretty girls.
For consumers, this means you win - we are now in a remarkably efficient market with well tuned processing and graphics technology. But be prepared for hot hands as the top handsets are going to stay close to this toasty edge for some time. Keep the power cable close to you, it's a USB one anyways.
Experiencing HTC Sense
The iPhone 4 was the first mobile device that raised my pulse, with its combination of performance, its remarkable display, and the singularity and focus of the user interface. A dystopian masterpiece with clarity of vision and nearly absolute control.
Given the design of One X and Sense UI, one must wonder are HTC designers and engineers fans of Eero Saarinen's work.
The HTC One X comes with the latest incarnation of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich and the Sense 4 user interface from HTC. Before the critique, understand that Sense 4 is a very good overlay on ICS. It adds usability features, nice widgets, good customization, and most importantly it integrates naturally with ICS and does not seem separate at all. Both are a significant improvement and refinement over Honeycomb and there is no way I am ever going to touch a Honeycomb device again.
You may have heard the critique that Android is open and more configurable and therefore less stable and inelegant. Unfortunately, once you are within the OS itself it remains difficult to manage the experience, and the experience is getting complex enough that it needs to be managed. Lower level OS tools are increasingly needed to navigate complex applications capable of desktop class experiences. I want more direct control points. I am always hunting for an icon or trying desperately to get the settings panel to descend from the top of the screen with the right swipe. I want control and I want a vision for how I control my experience.
The use of HTC's and 3rd party widgets and customized application panes is well execute on the One X but remains a work in progress. More vision for accessing core functions of the phone and low level controls is necessary. Too much time hunting through icons; we need an evolution of that paradigm. Not Windows Metro design, mind you, but we need a control center at the top and bottom levels, a rethinking of the central screens which permits all major function access with some customization, then allows us to seamlessly move to specific applications or major functions such as the phone, camera or onboard storage.
It is too hard to select a Wi-Fi hotspot, manage and shut down applications, and modify preferences and device settings. I want improved control and resource management. Add it to the design specification for what’s next.
One X - Your Cloud(y) Phone?
The One X brings an improved OS and the powerful processors, tempting us to accelerate the migration to mobile computing for all things and in all places. The pain of general purpose computing is coming to the formerly closed world of mobile phone like a utopian wrecking ball.
I use Polkast and Dropbox to create a personal cloud with my PC’s and laptops. The mobile client allows me to access and create local copies or stream media content to the One X. I used the unofficial VLC build for Android and I began to use my phone as a digital media proxy for my PC. Same jack of all trades media player, same content, same massive data sizes. The onboard storage began to feel like more of limiting factor than the battery life, I felt completely caged, too much data, no room for it to breath. Again, this problem is not specific to the One X but the lack of an SD card slot exacerbates the problem. These phones have the appetite of dragon and the bowels of a Siamese cat.
This device is nearly ideal for audio and video streaming. The audio quality is fantastic, I tested with FLAC on VLC and high-quality streams from Spotify. I tested with two sets of earbuds, a high-end in ear and conventional teardrop that came with my Sandisk Sansa. The volume was a bit light for the teardrops, excellent and powerful with the in-ear and I don’t think you are getting the full experience with anything less than in-ear or higher end over the ear phones. The 4G LTE data speeds certainly helped for high quality streaming with YouTube, Spotify, and Netflix. For testing I watched episodes of Dr. Who and HD movie trailers including the Hobbit on Youtube. Once they get the BBC iPlayer playing nicely with Android and ICS it would be well at home on this device. The screen is large and luminous making watching video enjoyable. I wouldn’t want it to be any smaller. Streaming simply works on the One X. While the powerful Krait cores probably have the chops to run Adobe’s Flash, the snazzy Chrome for Android Beta browser and Adobe won’t have any of it.
Creating a Photo Cloud With Integrated Dropbox
Cloud storage can be expansive and liberating if you can afford the rent. The One X embraces and integrates DropBox which I used to sync all of my photos ripping through 1GB of upstream bandwidth in a single day. The implications are far reaching and too expansive to properly address here. Be patient and you will hear more about the hair trigger camera in a moment. I began contemplating video and photo editing on the phone well beyond what Instagram will do for me. I use Photoshop and Pixlr on the PC, I began hunting for a fancy mobile photo editor and then fell asleep.The possibilities are exciting, the reality is it is hard to find a decent photo management and sharing application on Android. I resorted to Flickr, Google+ and of course the automated backup and sync to PC with DropBox.
Like a Vision from Eero Saarinen
"Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty."
― David Hume, Of the Standard of Taste and Other Essays
The design evokes the vision of Saarinen in 1957 and perfected in 1967 with 2001 A Space Odyssey and the modernist decadence of the early 1970’s. It’s black on white monobody design is a simplistic triumph and the beveled integration of the glass looks remarkably natural yet futuristically engineered. It is extremely light and the screen, oversaturated and oversized, is striking and universally appealing. This is the Saarinen phone and he deserves a design credit.
This creates the dilemma, similar to an iPhone, that ultimately you want to use it without a case, which guarantees that you will eventually break your screen.
One young lady remarked how wonderfully clean and print free the screen was. It may have been an unanticipated benefit of my microfiber lined pockets, but the screen class and its bevel seem immune to imperfection.
Everyone seems both impressed and intimidated by its massive 4.7" screen, but the camera is standard eight million pixel affair. Go figure, I could palm two of these. Go on to the Internet for objective complaints about handset size, I couldn’t be happier.
I encourage the wealthy to use their One X’s without cases, if design ever mattered, no time like the present to share good design with the world. It makes the Galaxy series of phones and even HTC’s own One S look deplorable. For the middling class you will need to encase it in rubber and I feel your pain. The poor will live without and will probably lead happier lives for rejecting the psychological dependence and cultural phenomenon of persistent connection the cloud.
Personally, the HTC One X violates my sensibilities on replaceable batteries and a few drops are sure to scuff its plastic case, no matter the exotic science of its composition.
So there you have it, beauty that won’t last, but a beauty at that.
"It seems to me, that the only objects of the abstract sciences or of demonstration are quantity and number, and that all attempts to extend this more perfect species of knowledge beyond these bounds are mere sophistry and illusion."
- David Hume
3D OpenGL Performance With GLBenchmark
The 3D performance of the One X US variety is extremely respectable but the surprise for everyone came from the Apple iPad 2 and iPad 3 which currently lead the mobile pack in 3D performance. These results are bested by both as well as by the Tegra 3 by a substantial margin, but that’s all. This is a solid gaming and 3D performer by any mark. Your challenge is going to be finding a 3D game that you are really in love with on your mobile phone. When you find one let me know.
Personally, I think the non-gaming 3D applications including augmented reality and object visualization are the more enticing application on a smartphone. If I want to play 3D games on a tablet, I’ll probably be sitting down with my Nintendo WII U and its winner take all solution to the gaming tablet.
GLBenchmark 2.1.4 Egypt High - 32FPS / 3640 Frames
GLBenchmark 2.1.4 Egypt Offscreen - 56FPS / 6327 Frames
GLBenchmark 2.1.4 Pro High - 47FPS / 2360 Frames
GLBenchmark 2.1.4 Pro Offscreen - 95FPS / 4743 Frames
The One X varieties here and in Europe have the best silicon IP currently available. The total weighting, an average of the sub scores, is giving memory performance more credit than it deserves but illustrating the benefit of a dual channel memory controller on a dual core CPU. The Tegra 3 version of the One X scores better in 3D but suffers in the memory test scoring. Both the NVIDIA and Qualcomm technologies do a pretty good job smoking everything else out there. An extremely well threaded application or heavy multitasking will theoretically favor the Tegra 3, but I used to design multitasking benchmark scenarios and they are almost impossible to standardize making comparisons impossible or academic. The 3D performance and visual quality of Tegra 3 may be noticeable, everything else is gonna be hard for mortals to detect. The combination of memory performance and core efficiency are going to make this CPU impossible to touch until we see A15 and a beefier GPU core, but the difference is going to be marginal at best due to silicon process, IP, and thermal similarities.
Photography: Can One X Challenge DSLRs
Photos, lots of photos. That’s what you will take with the HTC One X, I certainly did. Here are video and photo samples. None of these photos was taken particularly well, so your results should be similar. I consider the video and photos of the dragon boat races to be particularly challenging and I hope you appreciate the work this little camera had to do. Responsiveness is super-fast, and while quantifiable I thought you might be more interested in seeing the results. Auto focus speed is so fast I spent most of my time convinced it simply wasn't focusing. You can judge by the results. The One X performance image enhancement automatically in default mode and I let that stand, using the Feeling Lucky button in Picasa to see if it did anything for the Galaxy SII photos.
HTC One X Versus Samsung Galaxy SII
The images below aren't corrected in any shape or for, besides the resize to our site width. There is a 100% image and a full-sized cropped image in our 689 pixel wide resolution.
Samsung Galaxy SII in Default mode
Now, time for HTC One X:
HTC One X in Default mode
Next up, comes the same image, but from the original image we took a 689x400 pixel. You can see if the image is blurry, grainy etc. First off, Samsung Galaxy SII as our reference phone (so far):
Samsung Galaxy SII 689x400 original image crop
And HTC One X gives this:
HTC One X 689-pixel wide crop from the original image
As you can notice, HTC One X may be a newer phone, but the image clarity is unrivaled when it comes to Samsung's CMOS sensor.
HTC One X versus Olympus E420 DSLR Camera
We decided to see just how well can One X fare against the E420 digital SLR camera equipped with the stock Zuiko lens, 14-42mm. The results will be surprising, but we'll leave all the conclusions for yourself. First off, we start with the Olympus DSLR camera:
Olympus E420 image, resized to 689x517 pixels. No post-edit
Can HTC One X rival the DSLR camera worth couple of hundred dollars?
HTC One X. Original image resized to 689x388, no post-edit
As you can see for yourself, no visible difference at first sight. Now, for the real test - we cropped 689-pixel wide area from the original image, no post-production retouching. Olympus comes first:
Olympus E420. Cropped image from original image, no post-edit performed
And now, for the HTC One X.
HTC One X, 689-pixel wide crop from the original image.
1080P Video - Boat Race Shot in Austin, TX
Is this good enough for you?
The problem for the One X is that we are tempted to use it for everything, and we are bound by the lack of expandable storage. However, the cloud storage wars have begun, and arguably offer better security and certainly more capacity. Streaming content options abound. This phone relies on the cloud and the cloud benefits and grows by the demands of extremely powerful, always connected mobile devices. The future has become the present; the cloud and the phone are One. The HTC One X illustrates the importance of the cloud as much as it does the remarkable performance and utility of the device we hold.
The compute performance of the HTC One X is a felt difference. Like the PC in the old days when extracting more performance substantially improved the experience. So it is with these phones. As the processors become faster, they will also become more efficient and they will be able to throttle down extracting more use-time from their batteries. The Krait cores in the Snapdragon S4 debuted for America in the One X is peek into the future.
Does the HTC One X and the new generation of smartphones create a crack in the timespace continuum? Soon that, and other mysteries will unfold and be told here at BSN.
The HTC One X is available directly from AT&T Wireless or online at Best Buy and you can get a $50 gift card with a two year AT&T wireless contract.
For everything shown today, we have decided to give a thumbs up and give an Editor's Choice award to HTC One X:
Furthermore, for the Dedicated Image CPU, we have decided to give an Innovation Award:
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